We’ve all been there – we start a new job, and on day one, we receive a stack of HR policies to read and sign. Let’s be honest; we don’t read them; we just sign them because – yawn, BORING.

But what is the actual importance of these HR policies? Should we pay more attention to their contents and take them a little more seriously? What if you are a business owner, you are probably wondering do I need to have these for my business? What is their purpose and which ones are the most important? What about the tone and contents – so many questions.

So, let’s explore why policies are so important…

HR policies – defined

HR policies, in their most simple form are rule documents. They are documents that outline expectations, responsibilities, behaviours and procedures for your workplace. They typically apply to all employees and contractors – whether casual, part-time or full-time. They are a resource for your team to reflect on to guide how they operate within their role. They provide certainty, control, consistency and fairness to all facets of the business. They also promote transparency regarding how certain situations will be managed.

A world without HR policies

Picture this, you start a new job, and there are no HR policies. At first, you’re excited because you don’t have a stack of documents to read, but then you have questions:

  • What do you do when you need to request annual leave? What is the process?
  • Who do you go to if you have a complaint, and how is it investigated?
  • What are the expectations around dress code?
  • Can you request a flexible working arrangement?
  • What if I am pregnant what are the rules around parental leave?

Your manager is too busy to answer all your questions, so now you feel lost and far less excited about your new job.

Without HR policies, workplaces often find themselves in sticky situations with a lack of direction, accountability, and increased disputes. This is because if you don’t set the rules, then your employees and managers with often set their own. So we know they can be boring, onerous and seemingly controlling but HR policies exist to provide a benefit to both employees and employers. The benefits to both are outlined below.

The benefit of HR policies for employees

  • Guidance. These documents guide how employees should behave, conduct themselves and communicate in certain situations.
  • Procedures. They outline procedures and documents that are required for varying circumstances – for example, how to apply for annual leave or personal leave.
  • Reference point. They are used for employees to refer back to throughout their employment whenever they have questions about business practices.
  • Transparency. They give employees visibility to processes used across the workplace to ensure a fair process is always taken.

The benefit of HR policies for employers

  • Accountability tool. HR policies are used to hold employees accountable. It’s a resource to reflect back on with employees when they are not meeting your expectations.
  • Protection. Policies that outline consistent, fair and equitable processes can assist in protecting the business should a dispute arise. It supports the fact that you’ve implemented a fair and lawful process.
  • Ability to focus on productivity. Having a resource for employees to draw on to answer questions helps to free managers up to focus on more important aspects of the business.
  • Fairness. Having processes outlined step by step in policies means that the same process is followed every time, creating a culture of trust and fairness.
  • Compliance. It’s imperative that your HR policies align with what is required by law to ensure that your business complies with legal requirements. For example, does your Diversity policy align with the Equal Opportunity Act 2010?

Case study

Jenny works for a business called Delux Couches. Delux Couches is a small business of 10 employees and does not have any HR policies. Jenny has been employed there for 8 months. In December, Delux Couches holds its annual Christmas function on a Friday evening, outside of work hours. Jenny gets a little carried away at this Christmas function and consumes too much alcohol. She starts becoming quite inconsiderate of her colleagues and begins using offensive language. Jenny’s manager, Alicia, notices her behaviour and arranges for her to be transported home.

Alicia meets with Jenny on Monday to discuss her behaviour at the Christmas party. Alicia outlines that her behaviour is against the Company’s expectations; therefore, she wishes to discipline Jenny for her conduct.

Jenny argues that as the function was outside of work hours, she didn’t know that it was considered a work function or that she had to limit her alcohol intake. She also argues that if she used offensive language, it was outside of work hours, so there’s nothing Alicia can do about it.

Due to the lack of policy outlining the expectations from Delux Coaches around what is considered a “work function” and the expectation around appropriate alcohol consumption at work functions, it is risky and difficult to hold Jenny to account.

Recommendation for Delux Couches

Implementing several crucial HR policies such as the Drug, Alcohol and Smoking policy and Code of Conduct policy, could have helped Delux Couches from this situation occurring. Further to this, if the situation occurred anyway, these policies could be used as an accountability tool to remind Jenny of the expectations she agreed to at the commencement of her employment. Delux Couches could have issued Jenny with a warning based on a breach of their policies. In essence it is hard for a business to hold people accountable and discipline them for inappropriate behaviour if you don’t have the right policies to back it up. On many occasions we have struggled to assist clients who want to deal with tricky situations where they have no policy in place outlining what their expectations are.

Our recommendation of must have policies

When drafting a suite of HR policies, there is a delicate balance between too few policies and becoming the policy police and having a policy on everything! We recommend there are 10 crucial policies you must implement as a protection mechanism for your business; they are:

  • Code of Conduct
  • Conflict of Interest
  • OHS
  • Diversity – Equal Employment Opportunity, Anti-Bullying and Harassment
  • Drug, Alcohol and Smoking
  • Fraud, Theft and Dishonesty
  • Grievance
  • IT, Internet and Email
  • Leave
  • Parental Leave
  • Privacy

In addition, if you have any employees working from home, I’d add a Working From Home policy in there too. Its also good to remember that its simply not enough to have the policies stored in a drawer somewhere or electronically in your file storage system. For policies to work you need to ensure that your employees and have read them and agreed to abide by them. We recommend storing all of these in an Employee Handbook and making this a part of your Induction process. This will ensure you have a compliance record that your employees were issued with all your policies, and then finally you can get them to sign a declaration that can stored on their personnel file.

Heading toward the end of the year, it’s now a good time to conduct an audit on your own internal policies. Check that you’ve implemented all policies that I’ve mentioned above and check that they are robust, compliant and up to date (yes, policies can become out of date due to legislative and best practice changes).

If you need assistance with a policy audit or updating your policies, don’t hesitate to contact us on 1300 959 560.

Written by Maddie Bray

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